The Against the Day Deathmarch, Week 2

If I knew Tesla was coming, I might very well have baked a cake. Because, well, you know how much Tesla loves to eat cake.
Lots of fun this week — excellent comments from an international crew of ‘marchers, plus a promising start to the novel with all sorts of rich plot threads. It sounds like many of us, me included, are thinking “hey — that was actually kinda fun.” But we can’t rename this a “funmarch” can we? That would just be silly. And of course, who knows what lies ’round the bend….?
Like several of the commenters, I’ve been making lists of characters. I tend to write “intro so-and-so” in the margin when a new character makes their first appearance. Another habit I picked up when we read Gravity’s Rainbow is writing a quick summary of the action on the top of each page. So, for example, page 13 was “naked lady below,” page 42 was “Lew can notice things,” and page 48 was “a fight avoided.”
If the slew of references gets you dizzy, bookmark the AtD wiki. I’m mostly staying in the text and avoiding a ton of extra research, but I did drop by the wiki twice this week — once to find out what a “charabanc” was, and once to confirm my suspicion that “The Unsleeping Eye” referred to the dread Pinkerton’s.
All in all, a great start. I’m really surprised how downright excited I am to back in Pynchonville.
Next Tuesday: Let’s stretch our page count just a touch so we can get to the end of Part One. We’ll pull over for nuts and clementines at the bottom of page 118, “toward a fate…few would willingly have chosen.”
(which is to say: use this thread to comment through page 118. Try to finish reading that part of the book and to comment on it here by end o’ day next Monday)

45 thoughts on “The Against the Day Deathmarch, Week 2

  1. Having finally secured myself the book–I plan on building up my shoulder muscles by carrying it around in my backpack for the next six months–and ripped through the first 56 pages with surprising alacrity, I can say that I am so far enjoying this march very much, maybe most of all. Zeppelins, talking dogs, Franz Ferdinand, the Unsleeping Eye, Tesla, Scarsdale Vibe, psychic powers, UFOs…what’s not to like? And references to both the Firesign Theatre and the Hong Kong Cavaliers in the first week’s comments alone.
    For 29 years I wanted to be a Jedi Knight, but now I want to be a Chum of Chance.

  2. Hong Kong Cavaliers (Well, Buckaroo Banzi anyway) were just in our comments. BTW there’s a new BB comic book series out called Return of the Screw. It’s OK. No new ground. But full of fun oddities.
    Hmm, I know Yoyodyne in BB was a Pynchon reference; Henry James pops up in the BB comic and AtD. Could it be a pattern is forming? If I could just see all American literature from 30.000 ft. it would all become clear.
    Ok, ok, back to reading. cheez

  3. stellasauce: I did! And at the very moment I said it, a toy duck came dropping down from my ceiling. Which, frankly, I found more than a little unnerving.

  4. yes, cecil, about tesla–on the last thread, andy mentioned the powerful forces converging to stop tesla, and what i want to know is–if they’re successful, will this have an impact on our end-of-deathmarch magnets–could they become unattractive, even repellent? i’m committed to the march, no matter what, but it’s good to have the big picture.

  5. e: Heino Vanderjuice has assured me that post-‘march our magnets will function as intended. He’s not so certain about the mugs….

  6. I’m still confused on structure of the march. We should all be up to page 56 at this moment and 118 next week. Should we comment on 56-118 now?
    I get messed up on this on every march – so I apologize

  7. Dr. V — not to worry. Lots of folks have gotten confused about that, so this time I’m putting a note in italics spelling it out each week. This time the note sez to comment on everything up to 118.
    You’re right that most comments will be about 56-118. Or about Tesla. But there’s no stopping someone from commenting on something earlier in the book.

  8. I’m having an added obstacle to my progress. For my 43rd birthday last week, I got “progressive lens” glasses (a nice little euphenism for lineless bifocals, doncha think?). Anyway, I am still trying to figure out how to work with them and where to hold a book to read it best after nearly 3 months of accepting I could read better without my glasses on at all.
    In a way, it is the most Pynchonian (Pynchonesque?) of experiences. I can’t read the new Pynchon because I can’t read! I also start teaching Lot 49 in about 10 days.

  9. So glad to have permission to comment on things early in the book. I’m past 118, so I’m trying not to spoil things for my fellow chums. Since Pugnax continues to be an early favorite in the character department (Cecil–you simply must incorporate Pugnax into the Prize this time–please don’t wait for Hollywood to cast him), I want to say that being a dog lover, I was stunned by the simplicity and profundity of Pynchon’s comment on page 6. Following the already documented deathmarch comment regarding Pugnax’s effort to detect other human olfactory “notes,” and not finding an explanation for his inability to do so, Pynchon notes that “Explanations did not, as far as he could tell, appear to be anything dogs even sought or even were entitled to.” This is simply the most profound dog vs. cat statement I have ever heard. Cats *demand* explanations; dogs simply adapt.

  10. I think you could definitely say that the difference between cats and dogs is a sense of entitlement. I’m not sure that cats really want explanations, though. They just want their every whim indulged–they don’t care how it’s done.

  11. OK I’m not reading he book (not enough time), but I’m following your travels. Is Pugnax a talking dog? (Someone mentioned a talking dog). He had a talking dog named Garry Owen In Mason and Dixon. Just wanted to point that out.

  12. A couple of thoughts on Webb Traverse. Even after dropping the Jess Traverse reference last week, it took me longer than it should have to tumble to the fact that this was the same Traverse family of Vineland. Makes sense – they were dyed-in-the-wool lefties too.
    I especially liked the musing on dynamite (p.87) “the outward and audible sign of enslavement to mineral extraction, and the working man’s equalizer; his agent of deliverance, if he would only dare use it… Every time a stick goes off in the service of the owners, a blast convertible at the end of some chain of accountacy to dollar sums no miner ever say, there will have to be be (sic) a corresponding entry on the other side of God’s ledger, convertible to human freedom no owner is willing to grant.”
    Ah – the balance. For me, dynamite the destroyer as agent of freedom balances nicely against the promise of the frontier marked most by its closing or the reduction of choices to the killing floor of the stockyards. Pynchon never disappoints in his ability to convert an idea into its opposite.

  13. I have a question re: Merle’s background when Pynchon digressed into back story when he meets Erlys.
    He makes reference to Erlys putting up with the scores of men and women after him, but I’m lost. After Merle leaves Cleveland, why are there loads of men and loads of women (chasing? hanging around?) after him?
    Thanks for any clarity.

  14. It’s dawning on me every day as I read that I’m more and more lost with the story. I know it’s a lot to ask someone to do, but if anyone would care to take it on, I could really use a plot synopsis at the end of each week. For instance, when Cecil posts next week’s goals, a brief run-down of this week’s reading (up to page 106) would be great.
    Anyone out there foolhardy enough to take it on?

  15. A bit late, but in in Yulin (Shaanxi Province, China). Great lightweight addition to my pack (I did take your suggestion, Cecil – ripped it apart and sent 2/3 to Beijing).
    Obviously, I’m not the most punctual, but I’ll post retroactively for the first two weeks and right the ship by the third.

  16. File under “You learn something new every day”: I never knew, or even thought about, the derivation of the word “pissant.” Seeing it rendered in AtD as “piss ant” motivated me to look it up, and amazingly enough it really does come from “piss” and “ant”:
    “Pissants, Piss Ants
    In the United States, any small or tiny ant that infests a home is often labeled as a Pissant or piss ant. An actual Pissant is an ant that lives in certain European forests and gets its name from the odor produce by its nesting material – pine straw and pine needles. Middle English pissemyre : pisse, urine (from the smell of the formic acid that ants secrete); piss + mire, ant (probably of Scandinavian origin; akin to Danish myre).”
    Did you all know that? Cause it’s news to me. Extra bonus: I now know what to call the little bastards currently infesting my kitchen.

  17. So-called Erin:
    You asked about Erlys — I think that’s on page 67, which I just got to (running behind!). I could be wrong, but I don’t think at this point we’re supposed to know all about that that — looks like a reference-to-someting-we’ll-hopefully-learn-about-later. Someone shout out if I’ve got that wrong.
    Thanks — and back to the book….

  18. erin, cecil–i think the chances of learning more about that particular story are about as good as those of finding “chums of chance in krakatoa” in an appendix or of being told the terrible thing lew supposedly did (which i do really want to know, by the way).
    in grdm, we’d be introduced to a rich slice of character, and then off they’d go (into the ether–haha) forever.
    so my plan is to glory in the confusion/profusion for now and read the pynchon site later to satisfy my curiosity.

  19. Enjoyed the reading this week. Disturbed by the comments suggesting possible post-march mug complications. In the past I have left myself disappointed by holding onto apparently unrealistic mug expectations. If need be, probably better for me to recalibrate my thinking now.
    I was hoping we would each be able to request mugs with images that 1) were not slanted, and 2) depicted our favorite AtD characters. At this point, I would vote for a mug with a non crooked image of Merle, based primarily, though not exclusively on the following passage: “As Merle watched her (daughter Dally) sleep, an unmanly warmth about the eyeballs would surprise him.� Please excuse me now.

  20. I found it interesting in this week’s pages that the Narrator several times seemed to make comments of his own. Once (toward the bottom of p. 64) when Roswell Bounce introduced Merle to photography:
    “Photography, this is Merle, Merle–”
    “All right, all right. And you swear this is made of silver?”
    Just like what’sw in your pocket.”
    “Not lately.”
    Damn. [My italics.]
    And again when he refers the reader to other Chums of Chance titles, at the bottom of p. 117:
    “. . .The Chums of chance in the Bowels of the Earth–for some reason one of the less appealing of this series, letters having come in from as far away as Tunbridge Wells, England, expressing displeasure, often quite intense, with my [my italics] harmless little intraterrestrial scherzo.â€?

  21. “At first the ‘noise’ seemed no more than the ensemble of magneto-atmospheric disturbances which the boys had long grown used to, perhaps here intensified by the vastly resonant space into which they were moving ever deeper. But presently the emission began to coalesce into human timbres and rhythms–not speech so much as music, as if the twilit leagues passing below were linked by means of song” (p116, as the Chums pass through the hollow interior of earth on their way to intercept the Etienne-Louise Malus).
    “Best disguise is no disguise” (p 91, Rev. Moss setting forth his “theory and practice of resistance to power”).
    “‘Any type of lightning, friends—fork, chain, heat and sheet, you name it, we’ll send it back to ground right where it belongs'” (p73, the pitch).
    Phrases including “the day” (partial list): must be negotiated with (87), sufficient unto (96).
    1.7: Merle-Erlys-Dahlia(Dally) / Zombini-Erlys. The Aetherists. Michelson-Morly experiment & Blinky Morgan manhunt. Wanderings of Merle & Dally. Photography. Ball lightning named Skip. Merle and Webb’s conversation. Alchemy, capitalism, the anti-stone.
    1.8: Webb Traverse, Veikko Rautavaara. July 4th job. Rev. Moss Gatlin. Webb & Mayva’s brood: Reef, Frank, Kit, Lake. Police dossiers.
    1.9: 4th of July 1899. Kit Traverse & Doc Tesla. Jack Gigg. Foley and Vibe (“The Twin Vibes”). Civil War “substitutes.” Foley’s bullet-in-the-head clairvoyance. Kit’s scholarship. Quarrel betw. Webb & Kit.
    1.10: Chums. Tesla Device. A position antipodal to Colorado Springs. The great masthead crisis. Suckling’s flirtation with nihilism. Haymarket bombing. Communication by pearl. C. of C. in the Bowels of the Earth. Intercepting the Vormance Expedition.

  22. I was tempted to not quite finish this week’s reading assignment, and now I kinda wish I hadn’t. Through most of this section I’m slogging along, taking time-outs to use Wiki & other sources for background on things like Tesla & Repeal of the Silver Act, because I think I’m reading historical fiction: While the events described didn’t actually happen, they could’ve happened as described.
    Then on p. 115: “…the airship entered the planet’s interior,” and I’m into another genre altogether. He might as well have said that this 1900 or so airship went to warp drive and instantaneously arrived at another time and place.
    Maybe the introduction of the magic secret message Japanese pearls should have tipped me off to this sudden genre change, but I was willing to accept the pearls as plausible within a work of historical fiction. But I guess that too is really more science fiction-y.
    Am I the only one on the march who has a problem with this abrupt plausibility shift?

  23. i must admit i’m not done with all the reading for this week. alas–i’m falling behind already! but i’m hoping to catch up next week cuz although i’m a painfully slow reader, it seems that i manage to read a fair amount of these pages in a relatively short amount of time (if i can find some), and it IS fun! but, no, don’t change the name to funmarch–mustn’t be TOO silly…

  24. Raptor Mage: Tell me it’s true! You’re marching?
    One section in & I’m in love w/ TP all over again. Amazed at the number of balls he puts into the air along with the sometimes sinister, sometimes spiritual suggestion that they’re all in the hands of some omnipotent offscreen juggler.
    Two highlights of this section for me:
    –The riff on aether, light, magnetism, electricity (all that sometimes particle/sometimes wave stuff) that he somehow folds into the imperatives of plutocratic capitalism and the remnants of American Puritan religiosity.
    –The Chums of Chance and their (America’s?) loss of innocence, overgrown adolescents being duped by larger invisible forces and gradually starting to sour.
    That’s just a little of the voice I thought I picked up through the static. But I think I read Pynchon mostly for the static. (Henry James-reading dogs, gremlins in the center of the earth, talking balls of lightning, et. al.)

  25. surprisingly enough for me i’m not that lost. i’m just waiting for these seemingly separate stories to cross in some way. i’m 10 pages short of the first section, should finish those tonight. i really liked the part when Tesla asks for advice.

  26. I’m maybe going back a bit with my comment this week. I was doing some Edgar Allan Poe research over the weekend (inspired by the discovery that the publisher I work for published Poe nearly 200 years ago) when my memory was jogged about Poe’s sci-fi, Hans Phaall, hot air balloon tale. And it occurred to me that the Chums of Chance adventure reminds me of Poe’s hoax-turned-short story. I’m probably repeating a comment – there are nearly as many marcher comments to keep track of as there are characters and story lines in ATD! And Cecil I agree wholeheartedly with Computilo about the prize – being a dog lover and owner Pugnax simply must be part of the prize.

  27. The lull in Colorado was a bit much for me to get through, I’m glad the Chums of Chance are back with the champagne drinking Pugnax to liven things up.

  28. time’s getting away from me this week, and i still have 10 more pages to read from this section, but i’ll chime in with some quick thots before i read anybody else’s comments later. 1. this section seems to slog a bit, not as fun & interesting as the first fifty pages. 2. i love the fluidity with which he deals with time in this book, so far; and/or how time passes yet no time at all seems to pass, and then add that to the timeliness, the ‘these-aren’t-new-problems-they’ve-existed-all-along’ quality (i’m thinking in particular of the railroad terrorists, but he has done this thru-out) and it’s a revealing complexity. 3. and i’m liking how writing the characters names down is paying off, with all of the subtle and seemingly coincidental interweaving of character sets, how someone just mentioned in maybe a sentence 50 pages ago shows up suddenly in another state, another time, and becomes a central character for a page or two (or three). there, that’s my comments for now. fun!

  29. I may have to go back and try that character list thing, Del. It sounds fun.
    Dr. V: The dynamite speech on page 87 caught my eye as well. It brings to mind James Coburn in Sergio Leone’s DUCK YOU SUCKERS, which is at least in part about the relative merits of nihilism. “I only believe in dynamite.”
    I really liked the Western interlude. Maybe because I’ve spent some time out there and was raised by communists.
    ” They pushed out into morning fields that went rolling all the way to every horizon, the Inner American Sea, where chickens schooled like herring, and the hogs and heifers foraged like groupers and codfish, and the sharks tended to operate out of Chicago or Kansas City….”

  30. I share rodney k.’s delight in the Aether passage at the beginning of this section. Merle muses on p.58 that “…anything that happened at the speed of light would have too many unknowables attached to begin with – closer to religion than science.”
    And p.71 revealed a candidate for the most wonderful unnecessarily embellished phrase: “…sometimes they were on their way before the sun had moved a minute of arc…”
    Did Mason & Dixon make reference to the Telluric Interiour of the Earth, or am I thinking of another story?

  31. Don’t know quite was the matter with me this section, possibly too much mining, but something def. gave me the pip. Revived from grimacing (soo bad for the facial vavoom) by the Chums of Chance and the ‘ Great Voyage Beyoonnd’ (or down, or in, or whatever).
    I like how Miles kept burbling nonsense lines. That’s like me, right now!!! Yay! And on that point, if your mind has a tendency to wander, or to think in fragmented (i.e. crazy) bits, shouldn’t reading a like-minded writer seam together easily with your brainwaves? I should be grooving along, but alas, Pynchon and I are still very strange bedfellows. Indeed.

  32. so… only half-way there… but posted half-way is better than no way. promise to catch up and comment more intelligently (if possible) before next…

  33. is pynchon a socialist without a social life?
    darby suckling in his goofiness and perceived vileness, is sounding somewhat like a slowly defecting pynchon (teethe jagged and cap tipped) on a navy ship of sure/straight shots.
    Very amused by Foley Walker/Scarsdale Vibe duo and their absurd Lieutenants of Industry Scholarship Program. Universities are corporations too, Dave Matthews Band are minions of J.P. Morgan?
    gads, Webb Traverse has every right to be enraged…not by his apparent fugitive status, but because of his son’s diminishing soul; and one from Zinn’s people’s history of the US:
    “The rich, giving part of their enormous earnings in this way, became known as philanthropists. These educational institutions did not encourage dissent; they trained the middlemen in the American system — the teachers, doctors, lawyers, administrators, engineers, technicians, politicians — those who would be paid to keep the system going, to be loyal buffers against trouble.” pg. 257 in p.h.o.t.u.s.
    the chums of chance lead me to believe, during the small dedications to their evasions of tragedy, that I will never die. wow , counterfly, making, a , aboutface, towards, being, refined.

  34. The phrase Bradh mentioned, “…sometimes they were on their way before the sun had moved a minute of arc…”, is awesome, and part of what I’m enjoying…
    “as merle watched her sleep, an unmanly warmth about the eyeballs would surprise him”
    “Aitisi nai Poroja,” replied Veikko, a pleasantry long grown routine, meaning, “Your mother fucks reindeer” [is this so good because the sounds of reindeer are in ‘routine’ and ‘meaning’, and ‘fuck’, vaguely, in VEIKKO?]
    “At which, Veikko’s eyes would grow pale and illuminated from within, his voice isuing from an abundent and unkempt beard which suggested even on his calmest days an insane fanaticism.”
    I only just completed the reading and ‘it was a tricky bit of steering, as they emerged, to locate the exact spot, on the swiftly dilating luminous circumference,…’
    Does anyone know the band ‘Fall Out Boy’? this isn’t a deathmarch… “it’s a goddamn arms race”… no, it’s a whole lot of fun.

  35. If i could backtrack a bit and address the Old Man’s comment…
    It seems likely Pynchon himself had doubts about the Hollow Earth interlude, hence the disclaimer: “for some reason one of the less appealing of this series.” Also, he pretty much yada yadas over most of it, referring us to”The Chums of Chance in the Bowels of the Earth” for details.
    He appears to be aware that this kind of whimsy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. You, Old Man, are like the people from “Tunbridge Wells, England, expressing displeasure, often quite intense, with my harmless little intraterrestrial scherzo.â€? I didn’t have a problem with it; the logic here is dream logic–if you can think it up, it’s possible.
    Having just reread “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” I think Pynchon shares a certain kinship with Marquez. Discussion question: Could “Against the Day” accurately be called magical realism?
    Also, I wonder if Pynchon has an editor, and if so if that editor has any influence whatsoever or is just in charge if collecting the manuscript. TP is definitely a “when in doubt, leave it in” kind of guy. Which is how you get 1100-page books.

  36. Belief groups, as you might think of them, seem to be swirling and competing in air and on land, struggling to define the moving parts of what high school history books and wikipedia agents will, decades later, come to define as athe birth of ‘modern society.’ Pynchon gives this era a sense of generational importance. Some theories seem half-silly, but it’s not so different from today, perhaps, when you hear utterances from on-high about how we face “a new era” and a “different world.”
    “Some claimed that light had a consciousness and personality and could even be chatted with, often revealing its deeper secrets to those who approached it the right way.”
    “Just what people have been noticing ever since the first sunburn…which is that light makes things change color…”
    “You know what Indians out west believe? That if you save the life of another, he becomes your responsibility forever…”

  37. * Bluebeard: I exhort thee!
    * So-called Bill: re your discussion point, the fantasy-ish material so far seems more like period sci-fi to me (in which the rules of the game so far are, no dipping into knowledge uncovered post-1900) than magical realism, but I’m no expert. Any other opinions on that? Update: had second thoughts on this while writing the W3 post — Skip the ball of lightning is pretty hard to categorize as sci fi :-) Mebbe safest just to cop out with “it’s a mix!”
    * Old-Man: personally I dug the Chums interlude. Since the book started out with Pugnax! and allusions to a gent who doesn’t smell quite human, a trip to the center of the universe seemed like fair game.

  38. Old Man: I haven’t gotten there yet (catching up this week, hopefully) but TP definitely lost me with Skip. Frustrated me, actually. My eyes rolled. Unbelievable. I don’t like the mixing of genres! Death March, indeed, although the reading continues to be less tiresome than I’d expected.
    Steve Evans: How can I say ‘thank you’ for this? Wonderful. Extremely helpful.

  39. I just finished the section I thought we were up to here, ending on 116. I guess I’m behind some folks. Two things that seem to be coming around as themes are the creation and canceling out of opposites. Some are successfully doubled, such as the twin Vibes, but others, Tesla’s gadget vs. Vanderjuice’s, antipodal points, the stone & anti-stone seem to be something cropping up.
    As for the bits about slavery & socialism, I enjoyed them. I’ve been spending a chunk of my brain power trying to find out how society passes itself along, how kids learn lessons, and how to keep my kids from becoming slaves. (Just because Nancy Peolsi is speaker this minute doesn’t guarantee that my grandaughters won’t be working in a brothel for our corporate overlords.) And I think dynamite is only rarely the answer. I imagine Skip and his group mind becoming the slaves to humanity as Tesla farts around, gradually harnessing electrons until they only flow where we want them to. Hmm, will they relish being the soul in our silicon intelligences, or do the single electron gates & quantum traps strip them of their coalesence?
    My grandfather was a union organizer in a Colorado steel mill, (later than this story) and my Dad told me stories about him breaking heads of finks & goons. On the other side, his brother was a railroad bull, pulling men off the lines during the depression. Both plying their trade as mean-ass sumbitches with the sides being incidental. As boys they drove cows on the trail to the railheads, on their way to Chicago. History is that close, I guess.
    Finally, if anyone wants to hear a semi-amusing Pynchon/Buckaroo Banzai anecdote let me know. Otherwise it’s a bit too long, and I can save it for the wrap party.
    PS. Am I the only one who sees Merle as Merlin?

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